Tianjin party secretary Zhang Gaoli appeared relaxed and was open to questions from the foreign media during a press conference on the sidelines of the annual sessions of the NPC and CPPCC. However, his expression remained stern.
Zhang, 65, moved to Tianjin in 2007 after spending three decades in Guangdong and seven years in Shandong. He has maintained a low profile throughout his career.
In a panel discussion on March 10, Zhang kept jotting down notes while other deputies were reading their remarks. But he kept his head lowered and did not look at them.
All the early questions addressed to municipal officials at a press conference held afterwards were screened by propaganda officials, and only reporters selected by municipal propaganda chief Xiao Huaiyuan got a chance to ask questions.
Like last year, Tianjin mayor Huang Xingguo answered most questions.
But things got livelier when overseas media, including reporters from Russia and Japan, were asked to raise questions, and Zhang did not avoid sensitive topics.
When a South China Morning Post reporter asked him whether he would become a member of the Politburo Standing Committee - a question that was not screened in advance - Zhang smiled and said he was a 'poor kid' and his job was to 'serve the people wholeheartedly'. Analysts said he was differentiating himself from cadres who are the offspring of former party leaders.
Zhang appeared at ease when responding to questions about his low-profile style, saying he only wanted to create real benefits for the people.
He did not read from his notes and looked confident when reciting statistics showcasing the city's improving economy. He said there was no such thing as a 'Tianjin model' that other cities should follow.
Beijing-based analyst Chen Ziming said Zhang had shown he was self-confident about his political career.
Zhang started his career at a petroleum company in Guangdong in 1970, and became a deputy governor of the province in 1988. He went to Shenzhen as the city's party secretary in 1997, before becoming a deputy party secretary of Shandong in 2001. He was promoted to provincial party secretary a year later.
He Guoqiang, former head of the Communist Party organisation department, once praised Zhang for having a 'liberated and clear mindset'.
Despite Zhang's self-confident demeanour, commentator Zhang Lifan said it was not certain that he would be promoted at the 18th party congress this autumn.
'It is still a long time away, and the personnel reshuffle still faces uncertainties,' he said.